Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An airport without planes

In the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful; peace and blessing be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

“Say: I take refuge in the Nourisher of mankind
The King of mankind
The God of mankind
From the mischief of the whisperer of evil, who withdraws after his whisper
Who whispers from the hearts of mankind
Among jinn and mankind." (Suratun Naas 1-6)

AS a daily bus commuter since early last year, I noticed almost all express buses to and fro Melaka Sentral (Malacca bus station) and Ayer Keroh Toll Plaza, started using the Batu Berendam-Gangsa-Lebuh Selandar Sungai Udang main road which is almost complete in its upgrading work. The drivers choose this route to avoid busy Lebuh Ayer Keroh.

On this route, one would notice the new gleaming Malacca International Airport. This old Lapangan Terbang Batu Berendam had undergone a RM131mil project to extend the runway with a second extension and upgrading works carried out to enable it to cater to Boeing 737A and Airbus 320A. Covering 7,000sqm, the airport’s new terminal has facilities for domestic and international flights and can handle 1.5 million passengers annually.

The renovated airport including its new terminal building was opened by Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Feb 4 this year. Alas, during my journey to and fro Malacca and Kuala Lumpur using the new route I had never seen a plane at the airport tarmac. Normally only an inspection MPV with its headlights and emergency lights on, were seen moving on the tarmac when the bus I was travelling in, passed the airport around 7.00 in the morning.

So what is the function of Malacca International Airport? Is it an airport without planes? Millions of ringgit had been spent to upgrade the airport facilities, and now it seemed that it will become another white elephant in the state.

Besides the airport, infrastructure around it too had been built or upgraded. The road leading to the airport was straightened and broadened into four lanes with two new roundabouts.

A new mosque has been built nearby and a row of shop houses on the far end of the runaway (in Gangsa) had started business. In the airport’s compound, the Fire and Rescue Service too had a new building, the normally long grass had been cut, but the big question is why the planes aren’t landing in Malacca International Airport?

The latest news was that the airport had a plane waiting on its terminal on 28th May, but only for that day. It was a Firefly chartered flight flying 72 tourists from Malacca to Medan for a package of three days and two nights stay in the Northern Sumatra city.

It was reported that Firefly had agreed to have chartered flights to Medan following successful negotiations with Puteri Holiday Resort in Malacca. Firefly would provide the flights with the resort arranging tours between Medan and Malacca.

After the 28th May event, the airport would be ‘without planes’ again as the next chartered flights were scheduled on 25th June, 9th July and 23rd July.

Chief Minister, Mohd Ali Rustam who admitted that low cost carrier AirAsia and Lion Air were not keen in using the airport, said the state government had in mind to have its own aviation company that would be named Melaka Air.

In my opinion when building or upgrading an airport what’s more to have an aviation company, many factors had to be considered.

Malacca International Airport is actually not far away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang. From Malacca to these airports, travelling time was only about one and a half hour either by car or bus. Since a year ago Transnasional has buses trips from Melaka Sentral to LCCT.

In building airports, it will not be easy as like building a bus stop or a taxi stand. An aircraft does not simply land here and there to take a passenger and go. The airlines company must consider many things, including bigger ‘margin’ in profits.

Not only the upgrading of the airport that costs the public RM131 million was questionable; several other giant public projects in Malacaa too were subject to scrutiny. For example buildings at Melaka Sentral started showing cracks even though it had been used for only several years. To be exact it was opened by then Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 14th May 2004.

Melaka Sentral sits on 46.6 acres of land in Peringggit, cost RM53 million to be build, consists of three main components – the bus and taxi terminals, the central market and the bazaar. Now ugly cracks could be seen along the buses boarding platforms. Tiles broken; their sharp edges posed danger to unsuspecting passengers. The uneven floor due to the sinking ground condition, made the condition worse.

Some time ago the central market building too was declared unsafe and was closed to give way to repair works after cracks were found in the building. During that period traders had to do business in the market parking lot.

While the authorities in Malacca were determined to introduce the latest mode of transportation such as monorail in the city, checks at the local bus terminals revealed it was full of old and dirty buses. Some buses were too old but were still in use, perhaps it was in line with the city status as a historic one.

Regarding Malacca ambitious transportation project, one reader, Moaz Yusuf Ahmad in his letter to the editor’s column of a daily points up: “As for Malacca, the monorail project is largely disappointing. The ‘visualisation’ of the monorail used a copy-pasted image of the Las Vegas monorail – a concrete, double tracked ‘real’ monorail.

“The actual monorail is a single, metal tracked ‘theme park’ monorail like the one that used to run in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya. Then there is the aerorail project, which was also ‘visualised’ using an image from the Aerobus website, superimposed over real images of Malacca.

“The sight of the aerorail flying over the Stadhuys and A’Famosa drew howls of protest and laughter, prompting a new proposal that terminated the aerorail at Jalan Tun Ali, Malacca’s institutional zone. The Chief Minister, Mohd Ali speaks about a proposal for a 50km tram network, using natural gas powered trams, which are supposedly the first in the world.

“MRails International and its tram operating subsidiary have to experience planning, building, managing or operating any type of public transport system anywhere in the world. Can we trust our public transport future to a company with no experience in public transport?”

The same applies to the formation of Melaka Air as suggested by Ali Rustam.

Another giant project that is questionable is the beautifying and cleaning of the Malacca River. Although the first phase, costing RM120 million and the second amounting to RM90 million had been completed, but the river was still considered polluted; making it suitable for neither drinking nor swimming.

Malacca is a historical city and nowadays more achievements are being recorded, perhaps items such as an airport without planes and a city with old local buses should not be left out!

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